New installations by artists Robert Irwin and Ernesto Neto at the The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego could not be more different in appearance and medium, but both offer an enlightened view to our senses. They are true to the approach of the MCASD, whose two distinctive locations host many site-specific works that utilize pre-existing architecture to offer unique viewer experiences.
The original location in San Diego’s popular northern beach community La Jolla was founded in 1941 as The Art Center in the Irving Gill-designed home of local philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. The collection has grown to include over 4,000 works today and the unique structure has been modernized and adorned with site-specific installations. The downtown venue takes a more minimal approach to host expansive, conceptual installations in its light-filled galleries, located in two buildings along Kettner Boulevard and featuring site-specific works by Jenny Holzer, Richard Serra, Richard Wright and Roman de Salvo.
MCASD took up permanent residence in the first downtown building in 1993. It was designed by Helmut Jahn, with interiors by Robert Irwin, Richard Fleischner and David Raphael Singer. In 2007, the museum expanded into the 1915 baggage building of the historic Santa Fe train station (now known as the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Building). These galleries are still connected to the operating Santa Fe train station and are breathtakingly simple, allowing the austere walls to serve as a blank canvas, even as the old-world architecture speaks for itself.
The MCASD in downtown hosts an event series Downtown at Sundown on the third Thursday of each month, which offers a fantastic opportunity to get out and experience all that the museum, and the surrounding neighborhood, has to offer. The most recent party on November 19 was the opening event for the installations by Neto and Irwin, as well as a video installation by Judith Barry. Art supporters and artists from around the region enjoyed music from emerging DJs, performing art events and conversation-based tours led by gallery educators throughout the night.
Ernesto Neto’s monumental Mother body emotional densities, for alive temple time baby son features hung lycra sacks filled with spices—turmeric, clove, cumin, ginger, pepper and annatto. The descending forms take up almost the entire space and feel organic, evoking one’s own body. The permeable fabric allows viewers to have a multi-sensory experience, as fragrances waft from within the bulbous polyps. Walking among them, one might receive a slight dusting of turmeric on one’s shoulder. One is drawn closer—almost tempted to push against the soft membrane. It all blends beautifully into the environment of the gallery; the stark, white walls frame the vibrant yellows, reds, and creams of the spices—while the sage-colored doors and windows of the space add a perfect contrast. As an almost somatic extension of the building, Neto’s work becomes an interface between the architecture and the human, blurring the lines between the two.
Robert Irwin’s Light and Space is a site-specific piece that originally debuted in 2007 for the exhibition, Primaries and Secondaries. The work features a pattern of fluorescent light tubes of different lengths, ranging from two feet to four feet. Light ricochets across the concrete floors and throughout the entire the gallery. It is truly mesmerizing—capturing one’s attention and diffusing one’s gaze. The use of fluorescent light bulbs trigger a unique visual experience, while the implications of the material speak to the transformation of energy within the piece and our environment. The medium of fluorescent tubes also acts as a facilitator for creating a mass-less, enveloping perceptual experience. The viewer becomes minute in relation to the whole, but equal when compared to the individual elements. MCASD has been a long supporter of Irwin’s work and exploration, and currently has the deepest holdings of his work in its collection: ten installations, eight paintings, seven sculptures and thirty drawings.
Light and Space is “an inquiry into the nature of perception,” as it examines the “nexus between what is seen and perceived with the senses.” MCASD states, “Resisting the need to jump to quick conclusions, light and space creates a response of pure attention and engagement.”
The installations by both Robert Irwin and Ernesto Neto will both be on display until February 21. For more information, see the MCASD website.